What a difference a day makes: National Women in Engineering Day 2016 – Fiona Tatton, Womanthology Editor

National Women in Engineering Day

Fiona Tatton - Womanthology Founder and Editor

How to win friends and influence people

Dawn Bonfield

Dawn Bonfield, MBE

Hello and welcome to issue 58. National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) is almost upon us on the 23rd of June. NWED is a celebration of all things female in engineering. It was set up by the Women’s Engineering Society and ran for the first time in June 2014. A huge success, 2015 was more epic still, due is no small part to the tireless efforts, positivity and enthusiasm of Dawn Bonfield, the society’s Chief Executive and her team, without forgetting all the companies, education providers who got behind it too.

Dawn has been a supporter of Womanthology from the very first edition and a great advocate of all the work I’m doing. She’s also brilliant at creating a positive dialogue and building a common sense of purpose. This is how to make change happen. You can imagine my delight when she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

WE50

I was honoured myself to have been invited to be a judge for the inaugural WE50 – the Top 50 Women in Engineering Awards, backed by the Women’s Engineering Society, the results of which were announced in The Telegraph on the 23rd of June.

What this brought home to me very quickly was the fact that there was an inordinately larger number of women than there were places on the list. Women from every conceivable area of engineering you could think of, and then more besides. It was an absolute privilege to get to study the nominations.

As I read them I was whisked away onto the assembly line of a car manufacturing plant, or to a sustainable power generation facility, to the construction of a railway station, to a lab where prosthetics were being created to help those who had lost a limb live a more normal life. The list goes on. Super talented female engineers are all around us. We just don’t always get to hear about them.

The need for engineering isn’t gender specific and neither is the ability to solve problems

It stuck in my mind a few years ago when it was pointed out to me that engineering is absolutely everywhere all around us. It helped produce the laptop I’m typing at. It helped create the fibres for the clothes I’m wearing (hurrah for Lycra for helping to keep everything where you want it to be…). It got the electricity to my office. Who doesn’t need engineering? The need for engineering isn’t gender specific and there is no gender-based monopoly on the problem solving abilities engineering relies on either.

According to the IET, only 9% of the engineering workforce is female but there is a huge shortfall in labour, so this requires action. EngineeringUK reports that filling the demand for new engineering jobs could generate an additional £27 billion per year for the UK economy from 2022, so in order to do that we need twice as many graduates to enter engineering companies, and that means the sector needs to attract more women.

Being the lone female voice

Enter National Women in Engineering Day (NWED). Let’s use it to showcase the kick-ass female engineers who do what they do despite being in a minority. They know what it’s like to be the only woman in the class at college or uni. They know what it is like to be the lone female voice in a meeting but they are encouraging others to follow in their footsteps so that one day, gender balance is the norm rather than the exception.

In this edition there’s a mixture of news about NWED events alongside profiles of some of the women who are providing thought leadership in this space. How do we push back and change the system in order to make it more attractive to girls and women? Going back to the role of engineers as problem solvers, what better group of people to have on your side? It’s not just about engaging women either – it’s about working with male colleagues too. That’s how we create sustainable positive change.

Re-imaging the system and creating new choices in engineering

It’s also about reimagining the system and creating new choices. Why stick to the same old same old ways of forcing people to make rigid choices and live by them for life? Why not provide experiential activities that allow both girls and boys to learn about engineering?

The IET has joined forces with iconic venues and organisations across the country for Engineering Open House Day on Friday 29th July 2016 to give children and their parents an insight into what it’s like to be an engineer. The initiative is all about highlighting the important roles engineers play in everyday life, with participating venues and organisations demonstrating the creativity and excitement behind engineering careers.

So finally, all that remains for you to do is to check out the NWED website to see all the ways to get involved. Come along to an event on the 23rd of June (after you’ve voted in the referendum, obviously…) Get online. Get on social media. Tell your friends about the events that you’re attending, or organise your own. Take a picture, share some encouragement, change a life.

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